Last Monday, we announced our best-ever DG contest prize, one of Orient Japan’s automatic watches. The one we featured last week was a ladies watch. But when the folks at Orient Japan found out that about half DG’s readers are, in fact, men, they added this model as an additional choice. The winner will get to pick his or her favorite of the two watches.
To enter, just leave a comment below and be sure to give us your email address (not for publication) and website, if any. Entries from this post will be combined with last week's, and the winner will be selected on November 1, using Random.org, and announced on November 2.
And take a look at the Orient Japan site, where you'll find nice looking, but not-so-snappily named, models like the CEX0R001W.
Perhaps it’s not that unusual to exhibit courage in the course of finding our métier. In becoming an attorney, a professor, a web designer, a hair stylist, there are challenges that must be met, doors through which you must step to get to the next level. There are crossroads, required leaps of faith, and moments when you need a new idea (jersey!), and thin air is the place you’re forced to look for it.
But Chanel was fearless on another front. For the length of her long life, she said what she thought. In case this doesn’t strike you as such a huge achievement, consider the cottage industry of best-selling books about the apparent inability of women to speak up, to negotiate, to press on with their ideas when they feel they’re not being heard. “The Daily Asker” is a popular blog, wherein the blogger has set herself the goal of asking for something every day. Yes, women can cry and women can rage, but even now, we still struggle with just saying what’ son her minds.
Chanel was not just a straight talker, she was a back talker, a woman who embraced her own churlishness. One of the cares she lost when she decided to be someone and not something was that of talking around her real thoughts and feelings, so as not to offend. Really, she couldn’t give a damn. Bring it on.
Stendhal (author of The Red and the Black and also ahead of his time) famously observed that the way to offend a Parisian was to call her kind. On this front there is no chance of offending Mademoiselle Chanel. She could be ruthless in her honesty and often downright mean. Unlike most American women she was never tempted to channel her inner, crowd-pleasing Labrador retriever. While she was a masterful flirt, she never felt the need to be kittenish in order to compensate for her wealth and fame.
Once, during the end of the 1920s when Chanel was the queen of Paris chic, after she’d created the famous black dress and after the massive L’Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, where rival Paul Poiret had torpedoed what was left of his brilliant and erratic career by showing opulent, floor-length gowns in silver, lamé, velvet taffeta, and chiffon, totally missing the “modern” aspect of the exposition, Chanel ran into him on the sidewalk. Poor Poiret had not just fallen out of favor, his finances were also in ruins. In addition to the expensive, out-of-style gowns he’d just shown at the Expo, he’d insisted on exhibiting them on a trio of electrically lit river barges, which cost the moon. Before this, in an effort to shore up his reputation and combat Chanel’s stubborn devotion to plainness, he even created dresses lit from the inside with tiny bulbs. At the risk of sounding Seusssian: He was down, she was up. He was over, she was on top. When she met him that day on the sidewalk, it would have been nothing for her to have been gracious.
Seeing Chanel in her little black suit with white schoolgirl collar and cuffs, Poiret said sarcastically, “What are you in mourning for, Mademoiselle?”
She said, “For you, dear Monsieur.”
Chanel’s wit was not gentle but combative; she was Dorothy Parker with a pair of shears. She sneered at the husbands of her clients and said, “Those grand dukes were all the same. They were tall and handsome and splendid, but behind it all—nothing; just vodka and the void.”
Chanel’s wit was not gentle but combative; she was Dorothy Parker with a pair of shears. Aside form her basic French disinclination to be agreeable, and her Cinderella complex, she bore the indignity of being a mere dressmaker. Even as she was becoming a success, when her hats were being worn exclusively by major actresses and she expanded her business to include both Biarritz and Paris (by 1917 she had five workrooms; in one workroom sixty seamstresses worked on clothes for Spain alone), she was routinely snubbed by the aristocratic women who were paying astronomical amounts for her clothes. They would spend hours having a fitting at her shop, then the next day pretend she was invisible when they ran into her at the races. This wasn’t unusual. Couturiers were considered tradespeople, no better than cabinetmakers and knife sharpeners. Charles Worth, the so-called father of haute couture, would cross the street when he saw a client, so as not to put her in the position of having to ignore him.
Then came Chanel with her neat, fresh clothes and her disinclination to take crap from anyone. She was charming, but she refused to censor herself. She sneered at the husbands of her clients and said, “Those grand dukes were all the same. They were tall and handsome and splendid, but behind it all—nothing; just vodka and the void.” Of the increasingly zaftig Colette she said, ”Colette preferred two grilled sausages to love.” She called Picasso “that Spaniard, with his hat.”
The result of all this mouthing off was not what you might expect. Rather than driving people away, Chanel’s devotion to thinking for herself, aloud, drew them to her, made her intriguing. She simply did not have the time, the energy, nor the inclination to care what anyone thought of her. Life was serious. She was serious. She defined luxury as liberty, and stopping to censor herself, to make herself pleasing to others, would be depriving her of luxury. Until she was a very old and very cantankerous old lady, Chanel was beloved. Axel Madsen closes his superb biography of Chanel with a kind, malice-free remark by the sausage-loving Colette, “It is in the secret of her work that we must find this thoughtful conqueror.”
Am I suggesting then that we err on the side of being a big ol’ bitch (or in this case a tiny, chic bitch)? Yes I am.
Spurred by the FTC’s concern with blogger freebies, I’ve decided to regularly feature interesting looking books that I’ve received as review copies but haven’t necessarily read. You can buy them (or just get more information) by clicking the links. Here are the first two. Why Architecture Matters, by Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker
Andy Warhol, by Arthur C. Danto, art critic for The Nation
Most of us, when we land upon a great idea, a lifesaving idea, immediately turn it into our baby. And like our real-life babies, we only want the best for it. We love it. We coddle it. It’s our great idea, and who knows when we might have another one! We want to implement it at the right time with the best materials possible. We want the stars to be right.
But Chanel’s chutzpah dictated the opposite. She was going to reinvent the female wardrobe, and she was going to do it now with whatever was at hand. And what was at hand was jersey, then thought of as the cheesiest material possible.
If the world of fabric was high school, jersey was the personality-free, nearly invisible nerd everyone avoided at lunch. Stretchy, clingy, and cheap, it came in colors like beige, medium beige, light beige, and lighter beige. It was the opposite of silk, wool, cashmere, tulle, and other fine fabrics that could, at the very least, hold their own shape.
How did Chanel decide to use this red-headed stepchild of fabrics? The Chanelore differs. Either she got a sensational deal on a lot of jersey from a manufacturer that decided against using it for the menswear for which it was originally made, or else her lease at the Rue Cambon stipulated that she could only make hats, because there was another dressmaker on the block. As jersey was not something used to make women’s clothes, Chanel’s early jackets, skirts, and suits were not considered clothing, and therefore did not violate the terms of her lease (I will not attempt to parse the French bureaucratic logic).
If things hadn’t worked out so well, Chanel could have easily been dismissed as a whack-a-doo, and her jersey ensembles written off as the crocheted beer hats of the early twentieth century or the disposable paper minidresses in style for a nanosecond during the 1960s.
But Chanel possessed an unswerving faith in her instincts, which included what she believed to be her impeccable taste. And it was (largely) impeccable, because she believed it was. It was sheer nerve. When she launched her line that summer before the war, her dressmaking skills were nearly nonexistent. She knew how to make hats, and she knew how to explain what she wanted to other people (i.e., the women she hired who did have actual dressmaking skills).
The history of haute couture is populated with designers who were either born in a box by the side of the road, or like Chanel, suffered traumas straight out of Dickens. For every high-born Miuccia Prada, there is an Armani, who grew up in a small town near Milan that was so aggressively bombed by the allies during World War II that Giorgio lost his entire gang of boyfriends in a single day.
It’s possible Chanel’s pluck was not as unique as it seems. The history of haute couture and luxury goods is populated with designers who were either born in a box by the side of the road, or like Chanel, suffered traumas straight out of Dickens. For every high-born Miuccia Prada and Pucci, there is an Armani, who grew up in a small town near Milan that was so aggressively bombed by the allies during World War II that Giorgio lost his entire gang of boyfriends in a single day. On another day, a rifle cartridge he’d found in the street exploded as he was leaning down to have a look. He spent forty days on the burn ward and still bears the scars. Chanel’s contemporary, Madeleine Vionnet, “queen of the bias cut,” was born dirt poor in Chilleurs-aux-Bois, Loiret. Her family sent her to begin her apprenticeship as a seamstress at age eleven; by eighteen she had already been married and divorced and was working in a London hospital as a seamstress, repairing tattered bedding. Louis Vuitton came from a family of farmers in the foothills of the French Alps; he left home at age thirteen for Paris and worked as a stable boy until he was able to apprentice himself to a trunk maker. In 1854, with nothing more than his good ideas as to how a fine trunk should be built, he opened his first shop on the Rue des Capucines. Thierry Hermès was orphaned at fifteen, after his parents and siblings died of various diseases during the Napoleonic Wars. He wandered a bit before settling in Normandy, the heart of French horse country, where he learned to make harnesses. In 1837 he opened his own shop in Paris (not far from Vuitton’s) and proceeded to make the most exquisite harnesses, saddles, and eventually, yes, handbags, on Earth.
It’s tempting to think that the gene for the courage to impose one’s vision of beauty on the world is located on the chromosome that also determines the ability to create a simple, beautiful object (a bag, a hat, a dress) for which people the world over will pay staggering amounts of money.
Chanel’s biographers have surmised that she was able to stick her neck out the way she did because she had nothing to lose, meaning she had no family, no husband, no name, and no money. The other thing she had was no wiggle room. Had her business tanked, she would have lost the patronage of Balsan and Capel, both of whom had absolutely no obligation to underwrite her or her shop. Unlike Blanche Dubois, she was not relying on the kindness of strangers, but on the kindness of businessmen, a far riskier proposition.
The moral of the “Using Jersey When Good Sense Would Dictate Using Wool or Something More Sensible” story is twofold. First, when it comes to going with your gut and making the big, bold, seemingly outlandish move, doing so from a precarious position in life is not just a good idea, it’s the best idea. The very precariousness can, in fact, be a source of strength. Chanel wasn’t about to wait to launch her big idea; on the eve of war, in a relative backwater town (Deauville was chic, but it was hardly Paris), modern fashion was born.
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From the perspective of someone who is able to overcome her fears only sporadically through a combination of deep yogic breathing and self-talk, the strong, unrelenting heartbeat of Chanel’s courage alone is enough to qualify her for beatification, St. Coco, Patron Saint of Jersey (the fabric, not the island).
After Chanel realized she could more or less single-handedly (let’s not forget her assistants—she could not have done what she did without the little people) overthrow the institution of the twenty-pound platter hat with her saucy department-store boaters, she decided she could do the same for all of women’s fashion. Pourquois pas? Why not? It was the same principle, only on a larger scale. She was like a warrior queen who invaded a little country as practice for attacking a larger one.
It was the summer of 1914, the uneasy first summer of the first World War, and everyone who could fled Paris for Deauville, a posh resort on the northeastern coast of France, known for its racetrack, Grand Casino, and grand hotels. Chanel (with the backing of her new lover, Boy Capel) opened Chanel Modes on the main drag between the most luxurious hotel in town and the Grand Casino, and there she started selling little skirts and fetching cardigans.
A lucky heat wave in July, and that being-on-holiday-so-what-the-hell feeling that in our times manifests itself as a willingness to stop at the market on the way home from the beach in a sarong, sent fashionable society ladies (with fabulous rich-lady names like Princess Baba de Faucigny-Lucinge and Pauline de Saint-Saveur) into Coco’s shop for her light, comfy pieces, which would soon be known as sportswear, even though the only “sport” women engaged in them was the occasional slow bike ride, promenading between shops and motoring.
The creation of the fetching cardigan has its own equally fetching Chanelore behind it. One day Chanel was tromping around the barn/at the races or strolling along the beach and asked to borrow boyfriend Capel’s pullover. This was the kind of relationship they had, intimate and chummy. She could ask to borrow his clothes and Capel, an iconoclast in his own right, thought nothing of it. But the pullover...what a nuisance to haul this thing over her head—one presumes she had to remove her nervy little straw boater first—and so she simply took a pair of scissors, cut the pullover up the middle, belted it, and Bob’s your uncle. How the shears and belt miraculously appeared at the barn/track/shore is one of those charming Chanelian mysteries that we faithful simply accept. It supports the observation of her friend Paul Morand (novelist, diplomat, modernist, friend of Proust) that she “built her wardrobe in response to her needs, just the way Robinson Crusoe built his hut.”
It took pluck to introduce easy-to-wear clothes during an era when “clothes” and “easy-to-wear” had never yet appeared together in a sentence. At the end of the Belle Ãpoque, the S-bend corset was out, but the long-line corset, looser laced but extending to the knees (!) for a slimming effect, was in, and women’s clothes were still a cross between costume and armor. Ladies dressed every morning in a woman disguise, in clothes designed to aggressively suggest femininity while at the same time hiding the female shape lurking beneath.
So Chanel, the young milliner who still scrubbed with the same no-nonsense soap the nuns used at the orphanage, with one cheeky, well-received concept under her belt (simplify!), decided to expand. She decided rather than disguising women as women, it was time to create clothes that allowed the ladies to work it.
Historians differ on how she came to take this giant step forward. Some say she was innocently putting one delicate foot in front of the other, and moving from hats into clothing was the next obvious thing; others believe she was a crafty businesswoman with a master plan hatched—I’m guessing—during all those idle hours at Royallieu while she was helping Ãtienne Balsan’s grooms tend the thoroughbreds (as anyone who has horses in her life knows, for every hour in the saddle there are hours and hours of cooling down, bathing, brushing, hoof picking, etc.). I’ve decided to believe the latter, that she was a crafty faux Auvergnate bent on conquering the world in her own way, as opposed to a darling wee thing that simply fell into monumental, world-changing success.
Anyway, it was her big idea at a time when she needed a big idea. Chanel always looked young and passed herself off as younger. If she could have continued to pass herself off as eighteen indefinitely, she would have. In 1914 she was thirty-one, a few years past the age when women who were neither wives nor mothers were written off as “redundant.” In this way things haven’t changed much. Or rather they changed about forty years ago, when it was thought that a woman needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle, and then they changed back. To be thirty-one and unmarried is the same tragedy now as it was a hundred years go, back in the days when driving was considered a sport. At any rate, Chanel’s fate wasn’t yet guaranteed. Just because she had a successful hat business, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be thrown over by Capel (as she eventually was) and left husband-less, family-less, penniless.
Karen Karbo: My connections with Hepburn were largely personal. Katharine Hepburn was a household saint; my mother was said to look like her and she introduced me to her movies. I’d known about Chanel because I hail from designers. My grandmother was a couturiere in Los Angeles in the ’40s and ’50s; she designed pieces for the wives of movie moguls. My father was an industrial designer. He designed the hood ornament for the Lincoln Town Car, that iconic cross inside a square. Anyway, I started thinking about Coco and her life when I was writing the Hepburn book and came across Coco, the 1969 musical starring Hepburn. One thing lead to the next.
Despite the fact that one was a classic New England Yankee from a WASPy, relatively wealthy family and the other was a scrappy French peasant born in a poorhouse, the two women had a surprising amount of personality traits in common: both women were confident, hardworking, and fearless, except when it came to people finding out secrets about their past. They both discovered their individual style and talents young, and worked them for their entire lives. They were both bossy. They liked to instruct. They both always thought they were right about everything. And, they demanded that they be comfortable in their clothes!
DG: How would you define “Chanel style”? Does it require Chanel clothes?
KK: Chanel style is a philosophy. In its purest form it holds that luxury is a necessity, and true luxury is about feeling absolutely comfortable in your clothes (and thus, in your skin.) Chanel style means wearing simple pieces that skim the body. There is no unnecessary extra fabric, nor is anything so tight you can’t move. I’m sure ultra low-rise jeans would have driven her mad. Indeed, being able to move through the world easily and with comfort was one of Chanel’s main tenets. I don’t think this requires Chanel clothes, but it requires the wearing of clothes with a Chanelian attitude: only wear what suits you. When Chanel was just starting out, when she was Coco before Chanel, the fussy, overly complicated gowns of the Belle Époque were not simply beyond her reach financially, they looked ridiculous on her. She found what flattered her the most and stuck with it until the end of her days.
DG: You write, “Style has always been about money, and it always will be.” That’s a pretty depressing thought. Do you really believe it? How, aside from making your own Chanel-inspired suit, do you deal with it as a middle-class writer?
KK: I agree a hundred percent: it is a depressing thought. But it’s also a reality. To believe otherwise is to live at the mercy of the fashion industry which, in order to survive, needs women, rich and poor and in between, to buy a lot of clothes at all different price points as frequently as possible. “Style” is synonymous with variety in our culture; to be chic and stylish Carrie Bradshaw required a closet full of Manolos.
I have a friend who’s very rich and his clothes are the epitome of simplicity: he likes to wear jeans, loafers and cashmere sweaters, bespoke shirts and Armani jackets. The fabrics are astonishing in their color, their softness. The cut of everything he slips into is perfect and flawless. So is his style.
There are clothes that give a shout-out to style. They boast the of-the-moment neckline or cuff; they’re made of cheap fabric and slapped together by shockingly underpaid workers in Indonesia and China. That’s another discussion for another time, but the point is, from a Chanelian point-of-view, that style is luxury, and luxury means a garment is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Plus, it has to
fit, and cheap clothes just don’t fit that well, generally speaking.
Both variety and quality cost money. Or, more money than a writer makes. J. Crew has been my reliable go-to catalogue for decades. Which is not to say I don’t own a few stylish pieces. Up the street from me there’s an extraordinary consignment store I visit once a week. I just snagged a Ralph Lauren Black Label top for $18. I wear jeans, boots, and jackets a lot, and I have some great jewelry that belonged to my grandmother. As long as I don’t decide to become a socialite who needs to look fantastic five nights a week, I’m set.
DG: You write that Chanel’s attitude toward her past made her “seem completely modern.” What was her attitude and how did it inform her work and her persona?
KK: Chanel lied about her past, and then rewrote the lies. She created a past for herself that suited her. She was, in a lot of ways, one of the early practitioners of spin. France is a family-centric country, and the French tend to honor their heritage. To invent yourself, to make yourself, the way Chanel did was a 20th-century maneuver. It was an American maneuver. We Americans understood what Chanel was about long before the French did. We loved her message of ease and freedom immediately.
DG: Chanel was a master of self-promotion, yet you also note that she was “shrewd enough to make her unavailable to her customers.” What can she teach contemporary figures about balancing publicity and mystery?
KK: A salesman has no mystique. TMI extinguishes allure. Chanel said, “People should guess you,” and so they should. She understood intuitively that inviting her clients and her public to participate in the creation of her allure was to capture their attention. She put enough out there to create a screen for their projection. She understood that self-promotion was also seduction. She was also extraordinarily lucky; she was able to create a desire for her pieces, for her look and way of life, and then recede into the shadows.
DG: Coco Chanel was elegant and chic, but was she glamorous? If so, to whom?
KK: Chanel’s most glamorous move was to replace the real jewels given her by her lover, the Duke of Westminster, then the richest man in the world, with poured glass. At a time of great prosperity she invented costume jewelry and during the Depression she insisted women wear diamonds they could sell in order to eat. She was a revolutionary disguised as a fashionista. Can it possibly get more glamorous than that?
DG: How would Coco Chanel fare on Project Runway?
KK: I’m sure she would have nothing to do with it. She would find another way to succeed. When the dazzling Elsa Schiaparelli stole Coco’s thunder in the ’30s (as well as some of her best clients), Chanel’s response was to completely ignore her.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour? Chanel said “art is imperfection” and the same can be said of glamour. To be glamorous is be aware of one’s flaws worthy of envy. Barbara Stanwyck comes to mind. A glamorous item is usually a fetish item that few people have but everyone wants. The iPhone was glamorous for about 48 hours, once upon a time.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon? I worship Christiane Amanpour. She’s brilliant, chic, and courageous, with that devastatingly fabulous accent and weird, thick fringe of hair.
3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?
Absolute necessity. When glamour goes, so does creativity and hope.
4) Favorite glamorous movie? Double Indemnity. Also, Chinatown. Any movie in which people can’t overcome their own worst impulses while wearing sunglasses.
5) What was your most glamorous moment? Sipping Lagavulin single malt scotch aboard the Four Seasons Explorer in the Maldives, after a scuba dive in which I’d encountered a hammerhead shark.
6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)? A black and white cocktail dress designed by my grandmother for the 1948 Oscars. Her client ran off to Mexico with her lover two days before the awards ceremony and never claimed the dress.
8) Most glamorous job? Photojournalist avant digital.
9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't. Making a movie. I went to film school at USC and learned pretty quickly that filmmaking is both hard work and deadly dull. The days are long, the egos are huge, and there’s a lot of waiting around. There’s a great saying: the most exciting day of your life is the first day on the set; the most boring day of your life is the second day on the set.
10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized. Exercise rider for a great race horse.
11) Can glamour survive? Only if women stop giving press conferences about their preferred method of hair removal.
12) Is glamour something you're born with?
Nope, it’s entirely self-generated. It helps if you have some killer quality that distinguishes you from the pack, like very long legs, a nice head of hair, or a huge fortune.
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett?
2) Paris or Venice?
3) New York or Los Angeles?
My heart says LA, my brain says NY.
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace?
5) Tokyo or Kyoto?Lost in Translation
6) Boots or stilettos?
Boots, particularly my own black steel-toed Luccheses.
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau?
8) Jaguar or Astin Martin?
9) Armani or Versace?
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour?
11) Champagne or single malt?
12) 1960s or 1980s?
Is this a lesser of two evils question?
13) Diamonds or pearls?
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell?
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?
["25 shoes" photo by Flickr user bandita, who believes a woman should have as many pairs of shoes as she has years of age, under Creative Commons license.]
Back in May, Randall contributed a series of posts about watches, including one that delved into why the history of mechnical watches makes them emblems of status even when quartz technology would seem to have surpassed them. “Because of their tradition, high price, and mystique, mechanical watches still retain top status as collectibles,” he wrote.
Orient Watch Co., which calls itself “the largest watch company you never knew existed,” is one of the specialized companies still advancing mechanical-watch technology. Yet—unlike, say, Patek Philippe—Orient sells its products for less than luxury prices. (Browse Orient automatic watches on Amazon, where they generally draw highly positive reviews.)
Since they operate without batteries, the company argues that its automatic watches represent green technology: “As you wear an Orient mechanical watch, the energy from the motion of the watch is stored in a spring, which then powers the mechanical timing device of the watch. In essence, you are the power source.”
To enter, just leave a comment below and be sure to give us your email address (not for publication) and website, if any. The winner will be selected on November 1, using Random.org, and announced on November 2.
Contest open to U.S. residents only. One entry per person.
Posted by Virginia Postrel on October 04, 2009 in
One of my father’s best friends in college became a professional studio photographer, and more than once he practiced his glamour-shot skills using my father as his model (as seen at left). I have numerous photos of my father taken with elaborate studio lighting, usually smoking a cigarette or pipe, sometimes bare-chested, and almost always looking intense. His friend, the photographer, clearly was in charge of the photo sessions, and knew the various looks that he wanted. In a few of these photographs my father was directed to scowl, and in those he can look quite frightening.
Few of us have had occasion to be photographed in a situation where we are there to serve the photographer’s desire to add images to his portfolio. If we hire a professional photographer, it is typically to create a personal or family portrait, or record an occasion such as a wedding or graduation. Even in this situation, the photographer typically exerts a great deal of control relative to the outcome, using experience to produce results that will please most customers.
This is typically the situation with high school yearbook pictures, and I have used my own to illustrate. So that everyone would conform, the photographer had a supply of different-sized white jackets on hand. Since no high school girl would want a single wrinkle to show, the studio was set up with soft lighting. In contrast, the harder lighting used for my father’s portrait shows every wrinkle on his face.
Adding to the softness of the yearbook portrait is the relatively narrow depth of field. My right eye is in sharp focus, but my hair, right shoulder, and ears are not. Compare the sharp focus of my father’s hair with the soft focus of mine. The wider depth of field used for my father’s portrait allows the hair on his arms to be as sharply focused as his eyes.
The softer look is often felt to be more flattering, as it tends to make skin look smoother. But in my father’s portrait the sharp focus and harder lighting creates a sense of frankness that is clearly what the photographer intended. The crucial point is that both images are partly illusions that the photographer created by his choices of lighting, depth of field, and direction. As I recall I was told to tilt my head and look slightly to the side of the camera, whereas my father’s gaze is inescapably direct.
To get a sense of trying to visualize results, imagine what I might have looked like in the conditions used to photograph my father, and then imagine him photographed as in my yearbook photo. Doing so is not easy, but it’s an interesting exercise. Another is to look through a fashion magazine, see if the models’ eyes reflect the location of a main light source, and, if so, then look for the shadows cast by that light. Asking such “what if?” and “how did they light this?” questions can help us understand how various photographic effects were achieved, and possibly how to better achieve them ourselves.